Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March, 2019. In November, Gursharan Preet Kaur clinched the senior national title in the 76kg category.
Ahead of the wrestling dangal in Panipat, Gursharan Preet Kaur had to decide whether to compete at the event which had a total prize money of Rs 1 crore or attend her brother’s marriage on March 23. After much deliberation, the Punjab wrestler decided to skip the wedding.
The trip to Panipat was worth it in more ways than one as she won the final of the women’s 72 kg category, defeating national champion Kiran 5-1. She was awarded Rs 10 lakh for winning the gold medal. Her bouts, including the final, were one-sided and barring one, she won all her bouts via technical superiority.
“Even if there was no money, I would have come,” Kaur said after the final. “But I wanted to come to wrestle. I have missed the sport for too long.”
The 35-year-old is making a comeback to the sport after being away for seven years, having last competed at an inter-police competition in 2012. Her face wears a worn-out look because of the regular grind on the mat and partially because of working the fields in her village.
In the time she has been away from wrestling, Kaur hasn’t had it easy. She was banned for nine months by the National Anti-Doping Agency after a failed dope test in 2013 and later married a Punjab Police constable who was a drug addict. Two years after their marriage, the husband Sandeep Singh filed for divorce and asked Kaur to leave their home.
“He used to beat me when I used to train especially when I did it with boys,” Kaur says, with tears in her eyes. “They did not give me food and I was like a dead person.
“My in-laws told me that they wanted to have a boy and when our daughter was born, they beat me again and asked me to leave. My husband told me I have to choose between him and my daughter. I chose my daughter.”
Kaur left for her mother’s in Mohanpur village in Tarn Taran district. She then shifted to Jalandhar for her police duty. But life took another tragic turn when her husband filed for divorce in Amristar in 2014.
“I have to travel to Amritsar whenever the hearing is. For that I have left my daughter with my mother because I cannot travel with her everywhere.”
With her daughter, who is now five, growing up and with a case to fight, money became another hurdle. To overcome that she decided to wrestle again and in May 2018, began training at the Punjab Police Academy, Jalandhar.
Her first competition was the senior national championships in December last year where she finished fourth after losing a close bronze-medal bout. That, however, did not deter her from trying again.
Recently at the All-India Police Games in Jaipur, Kaur won the gold medal in the 72 kg category and then, won a local dangal in Punjab. In Panipat, she was the favourite to win the gold medal.
“It’s good to be back. Wrestling gave me everything and I have once again fallen to this sport to help me. I have nothing to lose now and I am free to do anything,” she says.
Kaur’s introduction with wrestling was also an accident. Back in 2000, she was admitted into the state police after her stellar show in the inter-state athletics meet where she participated in the hammer throw event.
“I threw 44 metres and joined Punjab Police. I was in training when one of my officers told me that I have to wrestle Sonika Kalliraman at a open event in Jalandhar. I told him I will wrestle only if I am allowed to skip training in the evening. I pinned her in 39 seconds,” she says.
Kaur spent the evening relaxing while others went through some pretty tough police training. But that day she also realised that wrestling can give her more money.
“My father’s kidneys failed. He was on dialysis and that used to cost us Rs 2000 every alternate day. So the 13000 rupees I won that day were spent on him. But I got a way to help my family. He died in 2001,” she says.
Kaur continued to train in both sports. She even threw the hammer 56 metres in the Punjab Police trials – not bad when one considers that the national record is 65.25 m – but decided against participating in the All-India Police Games.
“The national games were going to be held in Jalandhar. The prize money was Rs 100000 for the gold medallist in wrestling. I defeated Sonika Kalliraman there again,” she says.
There was no turning back from there. Kaur went on to represent India for 11 years and finished fourth at two Asian Games in 2006 and 2010.
“Internationally I have represented India 33 times but won medals in just 11 competitions. At five Asian Championships, I have finished fourth. Those days, women’s wrestling wasn’t given much preference.” she says.
Now, Kaur hopes that she can return to her peak form.
“Six months is all I need. I think by the time the trials for World Championships come and I am allowed to compete in it, I will win one-sided.”
Kaur will have to write to the Wrestling Federation of India to allow her to take part in the trials as she is not part of the national camp in Lucknow, a place where Kaur wants to return.
“When I met the girls at the national championships in Gonda, I cried. There was Sakshi, Vinesh, Lalita and everybody else. I never thought I will be with them again.”
“I don’t want to cry again. I want to wrestle and enjoy my time on the mat. I am not afraid anymore.”